Ashley Madison – A Muslim Perspective On The Scandal And The Underlying Reasons Why People Cheat

Purify Your Gaze Team: Assalamu ‘alaikum, this is Maria Khan, the Content Manager at Purify Your Gaze. Joining us today is Zeyad Ramadan, who is the Founder of Purify Your Gaze and a Strategic Interventionist coach. Insha Allah, we will first introduce what Purify Your Gaze is and then move on to the discussion of the day which is the Ashley Madison scandal.

Purify Your Gaze is the safe-place where Muslims struggling with pornography and sex addiction can find acceptance, guidance, and healing as they aspire towards a life of sexual purity and intimate connections, grounded in the deep surrender to God.

We aim to share ideas and thought-provoking content on a wide range of topics, including the effects of pornography and sexual addiction, healing from trauma, recovery principles for those seeking change, personal accounts of Muslims in recovery, and a new paradigm for healthy sexuality, relationships and intimacy as inspired by our Islamic traditions.

The Ashley Madison scandal that we are going to talk about today has been all over the news quite recently. It’s an infidelity dating website that is aimed at people who are married or in a committed relationship. It’s the website for people who are seeking affairs, and the site promises its members complete anonymity, and it has the slogan, “Life is short. Have an affair.”

Recently, hackers exposed millions of its members – cheating spouses – by publishing all their personal details online. So subhanAllah, 37 million users, their ages, addresses, phone numbers and credit card information were exposed and revealed on the web.

Let’s start with saying salaam to Br. Zeyad. Assalamu ‘alaikum.

Zeyad Ramadan: Wa alaikum assalam wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh.

Purify Your Gaze Team: Thank you for joining us today. We just have a series of questions for you insha Allah. The first question is, why is there a demand for this website? Why does this website and company even exist?

Zeyad Ramadan: Infidelity is not a new thing. The issue of infidelity or straying outside a relationship for an infidelious relationship or an affair has existed from the beginning of time, from the start of marriage. The reason we’re hearing about this right now is because of the large scope of how many people were impacted.

This company exists to provide a service. People, for a myriad of reasons, look outside of their marital relationships to fulfill their needs that could be fulfilled by their relationships. This company simply exists to provide a vehicle for them to secretly and discreetly have an affair without getting caught. With the internet, we’ve heard before of the trifecta of anonymity, affordability and accessibility. Before, if you wanted to commit an affair, it was a lot harder to do so, but this website has created a community of people that have those intentions, or have those temptations, and has brought them together. So you can go on the website and subscribe – I don’t know what the subscription is but I’m assuming it’s affordable. They’re going and playing with the idea that people have expendable money that they’re looking to spend, and it’s anonymous. So there you have 37 or how ever many million users that are potentially using this service and are also affected by it.

Purify Your Gaze Team: So a follow up question to you is, are there Muslim users or Muslims involved in the Ashley Madison scandal?

Zeyad Ramadan: Well I haven’t gone on to the list – I don’t think it’s necessary to look at 37 million users to see if there’s a Muslim involved or not. This isn’t a Muslim or non-Muslim problem or something that can be solved by religiosity or someone can be saved by religiosity; this is a human problem. Infidelity and cheating affects all different types of people – people of all different types of backgrounds, for a myriad of reasons, cheat.

At Purify Your Gaze, we exclusively work with Muslims that are struggling with unwanted sexual behaviors that have reached the level of addiction; we’ve worked with people that have studied Islam for years. Knowing the Islamic rulings or the textual evidences, or memorizing the Qur’an is not going to address underlying emotional and psychological issues. So it’s an emotional, spiritual, and psychological problem; it’s not something that could be addressed by the level of one’s religiosity. And it’s not a male versus female issue, or Muslim versus non-Muslim, or a matter of age; this is a human issue. It’s a poor choice, it’s a devastating choice, it’s a harmful choice, and it’s committed by human beings with all different types of backgrounds.

Purify Your Gaze Team: You mentioned something about people meeting their needs from elsewhere instead of their own relationships. What are some of the underlying reasons that you have uncovered through your own work with clients at Purify Your Gaze of why people cheat?

Zeyad Ramadan: I hear a lot of different things about why people cheat. At Purify Your Gaze, we work with individuals who have a pattern or an addiction. They’ve gone to a level of addiction where they are accessing pornography or sex chatting, or they are initiating relationships online as well as going offline. I have heard of many different reasons, from “I’ve got a high stress situation at work,” to “my wife has become busy now with the kids, we’re not intimate enough,” There are a million and one different reasons.

But if we just boil it down to why people cheat, from my training, a framework that I can bring is that we do everything to meet certain human needs. We do things for the need for significance, to feel important. A lot of clients we have at Purify Your Gaze have issues of self-esteem, and confidence issues, and this is a way you can escape from your painful life or your reality, and for a moment imagine yourself to be somebody else, and feel significant.

It’s a way that provides variety as well. Meeting different people, different situations, there’s a thrill, there’s the sense of adventure. People do this to meet the need of love and connection or even if it’s on a subsistence level, they don’t have a place that they can talk about their struggles, or they don’t feel that they’re showing themselves truly to their spouse, so they go to someone else, a place where they can escape to. And ultimately, these are all needs that we have but it’s about the vehicle – the vehicle here is the problem. Feeling significant in a relationship or feeling important, or cherished, or loved, or having variety or spice, all of these things are totally fine. But what the problem is here is the vehicle in question; the vehicle used to meet those needs is infidelity.

So a person who feels that rush, that excitement, that danger, at a very, very high level, can escape to imagining themselves feeling significant. They have that variety, they have that level of connection. If it’s at a high level, it falls into a pattern that becomes hard for them to break, and they go back to again, and again, because they don’t have a healthier way of meeting their needs or solving their challenges in life.

Purify Your Gaze Team: If a client came up to you in that situation, maybe they are chatting to someone or they’re on a website like Ashley Madison, or they’re on Ashley Madison and now because of the breach they’re afraid of getting caught, how would you help them in that situation? Have you worked with clients in that situation before?

Zeyad Ramadan: I don’t recall working with clients from Ashley Madison, but I’ve worked with clients that use similar websites like that. When they do reach out, they’re devastated. Typically, their spouse finds suspicious charges on their credit card if there are finances involved, and upon investigation, their whole secret life is exposed, and they’re distraught.

The big promise with websites like Ashley Madison is that basically, you can escape for a while, put your life on hold, and escape to this and then come back and your life will be intact. But now, everything in their life is being turned upside down. They’re afraid they’ll lose their spouse, or they’ll lose their kids. If there are kids involved, they’re going to be exposed, their reputation tarnished – it’s not a light issue. It’s very, very devastating for those involved, for those surrounding them. It’s not an easy time.

Now there are different types of people who could be in this scenario. It could be someone who created an account on a website like this, but they never ended up using it. There could be someone who used a website and made contact with someone, and they went all the way. There was intercourse, infidelity did happen. The best sort of policy to have here is transparency.

One of the very first things I ask clients in this particular situation is, point blank: Are you sorry for being caught or are you sorry because you want to take responsibility? You have people in both camps. You have people that have no intention of change, they’re going to persist in their behavior, and they just got caught – now they’re facing the consequences. And there are people that know they’ve committed a wrong, and they are sincere at wanting to repair their relationship. In the interest of time, as there’s a method and way to disclosure that we could discuss further on another occasion, in short, honesty is the best policy.

Purify Your Gaze Team: Many who have used the Ashley Madison website as an outlet have come out and said that if I didn’t cheat then I would have left or divorced, and that would be much more worse for me and my family. What are your thoughts on that?

Zeyad Ramadan: I think that is one of the advertising points of Ashley Madison that they help save marriages, and it’s really a laughable matter because if you just think about it with logic, infidelity does not save relationships, it destroys relationships. And if you want to save a relationship, if you want to create the passion, the spice, the intimacy, the adventure, there are tools for that.

And the real crisis is not divorce here. A lot of times we hear people say, so many marriages are ending in divorce, such a crisis! There are many times relationships need to end, and it results in separation, it results in divorce, and it doesn’t mean that the family is going to fall apart. If there are kids involved, they could be co-parented in the right way, the rights and cordiality can be established. So divorce is not the end of the world. The real epidemic is that many couples lack the skills and the tools to communicate effectively, to solve problems, to develop passion, to develop intimacy. That’s the real crisis, and so long as you are looking, or you have something that is turning you away from actually developing these tools or turning you away from your spouse, you can never have that passion in your relationship.

If you want to save your relationship, you have to close out all the avenues that are taking you away from your spouse and actually do the real work of growth and hard work to actually improve your relationship. But I don’t buy it that it saves relationships or makes relationships better.

Purify Your Gaze Team: Some people believe that it’s good people got exposed and now they have to suffer the consequences of what they’ve done. However, there are the families, children and people connected to that person who need to deal with that reality and learn how to cope with it. I think you’ve kind of alluded to that in the previous question. Does transparency in things always result in good. Should we deliberately do that?

Zeyad Ramadan: I would never wish upon anyone to be in that situation. I would never say that this is good and they deserved this. From the number of people that I’ve had to work with at that crisis moment, it’s a very, very devastating, very difficult moment for all – for the person who committed it, even though they are responsible for their choice, it’s a very painful experience. Obviously, it is very devastating for the spouse as well. and very devastating if there are children involved. I would never say that such a situation is good, and it’s actually very unfortunate that they were there to begin with. But the Chinese character for “crisis” is “opportunity”. Now that you’re there, you have to think, what is the opportunity you have? Instead of making this as a sentence for your life, what is the lesson you’re going to learn? The space that we’ve created at Purify Your Gaze allows someone to take responsibility, to take accountability, to understand the underlying reasons why they were doing this to begin with, and that they close the doors to this. And if their spouse decides to stay, that they actually do the real work and not just repair the relationship, but actually learn about and use the tools to make the relationship strong.

That’s been the experience that we’ve had at Purify Your Gaze from the couples that have been in such a situation. If they’re willing and they do all that work, again I don’t wish this upon anybody, there could be a silver lining down the road where it doesn’t have to be a devastating or a crushing thing for the relationship where it ends in separation 100% of the time. This could be turned around, even if a situation seems bleak.

Purify Your Gaze Team: Definitely insha Allah. Our final question for you today is what would you say to the spouse of a person who has been cheating?

Zeyad Ramadan: One thing I want to say is that a lot of time we think of the spouse of a person that is cheating must be a woman. But from what we’ve learned is that these behaviors, these temptations affect men and women. So a spouse of a cheating person can be a man or woman. And what I would say to them is that you are not responsible for the poor choices of your spouse. It’s not because of you personally that they made this choice.

At this moment, a lot of spouses that are caught in the aftermath, they feel that pain, “Am I not enough for you?” “Have I not been giving to you?” And they focus on all these things, and without any doubt it’s a very devastating and trying time. Now to work out of it, there are big questions that a lot of spouses in this situation ask: Should I stay, or should I go? What do I do with myself?

Sometimes many couples or spouses don’t have the option of leaving for whatever reason, or they may decide that they want to stay. They’ve been hurt by their partner but their partner is remorseful and sincere, and they want to change. Now in this situation, one of the things I do with couples as well, is help them understand or help them face some of the underlying or ongoing issues that are happening or taking place in the relationship at the time of the affair or that have not been resolved, and help them to work through them and resolve them, but most importantly as we said, the crisis is not about divorce – the crisis is in not having the tools to meet your needs and be fulfilled in a healthy way. That is the bigger crisis and that is what we try to equip individuals and couples with so that they can have a satisfying, healthy, passionate, and intimate relationship.

And it becomes a space through the couple’s intervention, or couple’s work, where they learn to develop skills or the foundation to intimacy, and all of this means that you are vulnerable, open and honest. As long as there is any level of secrecy or you feel that you cannot be open, you’re not going to be vulnerable, you’re not going to be able to experience the depths and satisfaction of intimacy. So it is something that, while very devastating and very trying, can be salvaged. It is something that can be worked through – it does not have to mean the end.

Purify Your Gaze Team: Alhamdulillah. JazakAllahu khair, that’s all we have for today. I really appreciate your time and the insights that you have given us and our listeners. Insha Allah, if anyone has any questions while listening to this audio or any comments, please feel free to share your questions on our blog. We look forward to having brother Zeyad again.

About the author

Zeyad Ramadan

Zeyad Ramadan is the founder of Purify Your Gaze. Through his leadership, Purify Your Gaze has served as the personal recovery guide for thousands of Muslims coming from over 35 different countries around the world in the various stages of their healing journey and has provided support to its members through its addiction recovery tools, its workshops, and personal 1-1 coaching. Zeyad has successfully lead workshops and delivered talks dealing with sexual intimacy, addiction recovery, embracing true gender roles, and spirituality. He currently lives with his wife and four kids in Orange County, California. Connect with Zeyad on Facebook and Twitter.